Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to be more conscious about how I react and interact with people I disagree with. Rather than discrediting or nearly ignoring dissenting opinions, I’ve been focusing on trying to learn why those opinions exist in someone.
We often have a hard time listening to opinions or ideas that directly conflict with our own beliefs. Many opinions can be changed by learning facts on the subject, but it’s much harder when it comes to religious, political, or social beliefs. It almost seems like a biological defense mechanism.
Recently I came across a post by Benjamin Mathes titled How To Listen When You Disagree (please click through and read the whole thing, it’s well worth it). In the post he recounts hist experience of “Free Listening” at the Republican National Convention — he sets up with a sign and just listens to anyone about anything they want to say.
In the post he talks about the importance of looking past the opinion and listening to the person. Get their story, and learn how they came to have those opinions you disagree with.
“When someone has a point of view we find difficult to understand, disagreeable, or even offensive, we must look to the set of circumstances that person has experienced that resulted in that point of view.
Get their story, their biography, and you’ll open up the real possibility of an understanding that transcends disagreement.”
This is an incredibly powerful message. It’s often so difficult to truly listen to someone in the face of disagreement. I know I often discredit opinions that I find irrational or offensive, something I’m actively working on every day.
But we must remember that, just like our own stories that brought us to our own beliefs, these people with different beliefs and opinions have their own story that brought them there. We must work to listen to the person, not just the opinion.